Motorola has had a strange couple of years. It was making some interesting, though mediocre phones, then it was acquired by Google. Then, it started making great phones. Before we could truly enjoy the new Motorola, the company was sold off to Chinese mega-firm Lenovo. We all worried what this would mean for Motorola, and now we're seeing the first products from the new-new Moto—the Moto G4 and Moto G4 Plus.

The Moto G was one of the first devices to show us that a mid-range phone doesn't have to be terrible, and it forced other OEMs to step up their game. As such, expectations are high. The fourth-generation Moto G is now available in most markets, and it comes in two (or more) flavors. The G4 and G4 Plus are very similar, so everything in this review pertains to both, except where stated.

Specs

SoC Snapdragon 617 octa-core
RAM 2GB, 2GB/4GB (Plus)
Display 5.5-inch 1080p LCD
Storage 16GB/32GB, 16GB/64GB (Plus)
Battery 3,000mAh with fast charging
Camera 13MP/5MP, 16MP/5MP (Plus)
Measurements 153 x 76.6 x 7.9-9.8mm, 155g
Wireless CDMA - 850, 1900, GSM - 850, 900, 1700, 1900, 2100, LTE - B1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 13, 25, 26, 41
Price Moto G4 - $199.99 (16GB/2GB), $229.99 (32GB/2GB) || Moto G4 Plus - $249.99 (16GB/2GB), $299.99 (64GB/4GB)

The Good

Design Grippy back with a dimple. Removable covers and Moto Maker customizations are appreciated too.
Performance Handles general smartphone tasks without issue.
Battery life Well over a day of usage, almost two days with lighter usage.
Display A great 5.5-inch 1080p display for a budget phone, or any phone really.
Network support Unlocked and works on any major carrier.
Fingerprint sensor G4 Plus sensor is fast and accurate. The best of any phone in this price range.
Camera The Moto G4 camera is just okay, but the G4 Plus punches above its weight. The new camera app is much improved.
Software Clean Android 6.0.1 with cool Moto enhancements.
Price Starting at $200, the Moto G4 is a great deal.

The Not So Good

Design again The Moto G4 is not fully water-resistant like last year's model. It's also a little more bland with the flat back. The larger screen might turn some buyers off as well.
Gaming Don't expect to play any intense games on the Moto G4.
NFC Still not included in the Moto G, not even in the $300 version of the Plus.
Software again Motorola's software hasn't been growing much over time. It doesn't do anything new.

Design and display

A lot of you were dismayed by Motorola's new design language on the Moto Z, but the Moto G has changed far less this year. It's still recognizable as a Moto phone of yesteryear with the slightly curved frame and a dimple on the back. I love the dimple—it makes for an excellent place to rest your finger while using the phone, and makes it easier to hold (in ergonomics this is called internal stabilization). The Moto G4 is much less curved than the 2015 version, though. In fact, the removable rear panel is mostly flat. It's a little more mundane from a design perspective, but I like the soft touch resin panels Motorola is using this year. The 2015 Moto G had less pleasant hard plastic backs. The back panel is removable, so you can swap it for a different color if you so choose (although I have the drab black color). The battery is not removable, though.

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Under the rear panel is also where you'll find the SIM card and microSD card slots. The SIM slot is micro instead of nano, which is annoying, but there's a SIM adapter that is basically just a tray for the nanoSIM. If you still have a microSIM, just take the adapter out. There's still no NFC under there, which I find perplexing. How expensive can it be to add that?

With the cover snapped on, it feels solid. The plastic rim is also thick enough to avoid flexing. There's no give and no creaking when the phone is squeezed. Perhaps that will happen as the phone gets older, but I see no glaring issues with the build right now. I find it odd that this year's Moto G is not fully water-resistant like the last one. It's only splash-resistant, which means you can't submerge it. Motorola says this is because most people don't seem to value that feature, and adding the necessary gaskets and other design tweaks makes the device heavier.

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The buttons are along the right edge, and like last year's Moto G, they aren't the best. I have the G4 and G4 Plus, and interestingly the power button on the G4 Plus seems looser and mushier than the one on the regular G4. This tells me there's going to be some variation in the way the buttons feel. The G4's button is alright, but still rather soft to press. If I had purchased this G4 Plus, I probably would have requested a replacement on the basis of how the button feels. This isn't the end of the world, but something to watch out for. The volume toggle below the power button feels much more clicky on both devices.

So, I'm not crazy about the power button, but maybe you won't have to use that very much. The Moto G4 display wakes up whenever you pick up the phone, allowing you to view notifications and unlock the device. This is a new-ish version of Moto Display, which I'll get into more in the software section. This is an LCD, so Moto Display doesn't look as nice as it does on an AMOLED, but this is a very nice display for a budget phone. Motorola is stepping up to a 1080p LCD this year, but it's 5.5-inches compared to 5-inches for last year's phone. If you don't like phablets, well, sorry.

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Increasing the screen size might turn some users off, but it is a very nice screen. This display wouldn't be out of place on a more expensive phone. It looks very sharp, and the viewing angles are impressive. There's a little dimming at extreme off-axis angles, but the colors don't seem to suffer. I will note that the colors aren't the most accurate I've seen. The display seems to be calibrated slightly warm, and the default setting bumps up the saturation. You can turn that off in settings if it bothers you. In "normal" mode I think it looks reasonably accurate. I've been using the Moto G4 to play a fair amount of Pokémon GO in the great outdoors, and the screen has held up well. At maximum brightness, it's totally readable in direct sunlight, though not as easily as a more expensive phone like a Galaxy S7. When you consider the price, this is an impressive panel all around.

This display wouldn't be out of place on a more expensive phone.

The Moto G4 Plus has an extra surprise right below the display on the front of the phone—a fingerprint scanner. I'm personally more in favor of rear-mounted fingerprint sensors, but there are perfectly good arguments for front-facing ones too. This does, however, introduce the problem of what to do with that sensor when the phone is on. Should it act like a home button? Should that be a toggle in the settings? Motorola chose to have the fingerprint sensor do nothing while the phone is on. You can press the sensor to wake and unlock the phone, and that's it. The sensor seems to be one of the faster and more accurate I've used. It's not as fast as the OnePlus 3, and it's not quite as accurate either. But it's close. Not bad for a $250 phone.

Cameras

The only other notable difference between the standard and Plus Moto G4 is the camera. The Moto G4 has a 13MP sensor with standard autofocus. The Moto G4 Plus steps up to a 16MP sensor with laser and phase-detect autofocus. Both cameras boast a f/2.0 aperture, a little behind most flagship phones.

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I've found the Moto G4's camera to be reasonably capable. It's certainly an improvement over the camera used on last year's Moto G. Outdoor and bright light shots are good, though it does have a tendency to lose detail in especially bright light. The exposure is somewhat better with HDR, but that adds a second or so to capture time. A higher-end phone can snap an HDR photo in almost the same time as a regular one, but that's not happening here. In indoor middling light, the Moto G4 is still alright. Darker areas will get noisy, but it's still better than what I'm used to seeing from budget phones. The autofocus on this phone can be sluggish and inaccurate, but at least the Motorola camera app is better able to compensate for that now (more on that in a moment).

The G4 Plus performs roughly the same in outdoor settings, but images have increased detail with more even exposure. It too flips to HDR mode when needed, and it's not really any faster. It'll need to do that less often than the regular G4, thanks to the better exposures. The difference becomes much more obvious when lighting is less than ideal. The G4 Plus has better white balance indoors, and in low light it can actually pull off a usable photo when the G4 is near useless. Noise is much lower and the autofocus is much, much better on the G4 Plus as well. I suppose you'd expect that from the hardware. Check out the comparisons below.

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Bright outdoor light: G4 Plus left, G4 right

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Medium indoor light: G4 Plus left, G4 right

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Extreme low light: G4 Plus left, G4 right

So, the standard G4 is good for a budget phone—it's a modest but real improvement over the last Moto G. Meanwhile, the G4 Plus gets a few more things right. It's not to the level of the OnePlus 3, which has a surprisingly nice camera, but it's still better than I'd expect in a $250 phone. Oh, and the twist gesture to launch the camera continues to be one of my favorite things about Motorola's software. It's so great for capturing a quick snapshot.

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Both phones also have access to Motorola's improved camera app, and thank goodness. Motorola's camera app has been seriously lacking for several years, but now it's catching up on features. The tap to capture interface used to be the only way to take photos in Moto's camera app, but now you can choose between that and a button. With the button, you have proper tap to focus. There's also a pro photo mode with sliders for focus, exposure, white balance, and so on. The camera app won't remember to stay in pro mode, though. You have to select it every time you open the camera if you want to use it.

A few more Moto G4 samples:

And some Moto G4 Plus:

Performance and battery

The Moto G4 and G4 Plus have slightly different hardware configurations, but they don't seem to perform differently. Both phones come with a Snapdragon 617, an SoC we saw previously in the hideously overpriced HTC One A9. Like that phone, the Moto G4 is not slow. It's not especially fast either, but it's pretty good. All the general smartphone tasks you might want to do seem smooth and free of lag to me. I have included a few benchmarks below run on the regular G4.

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I haven't had any performance issues to speak of doing things like email, poking around on Reddit, and messaging. Even hopping between apps on the Moto G4 with 2GB of RAM has been fine. It might be nice to have more, but the G4 Plus variant with 4GB of RAM is still running the same SoC. And at any rate, opening apps that have fallen out of memory doesn't seem unusually slow despite the modest hardware.

The Moto G4 tends to get bogged down easily if you run a heavy 3D game—the Adreno 405 GPU just isn't hearty enough for that.

The G4 Plus with 4GB of RAM (the base Plus version still has 2GB) seems a bit better about holding on to apps, but it's a marginal difference in daily usage. The SD617 is the main performance bottleneck. There are times I feel like I'm pushing the device right up to its limits when I'm jumping between apps or editing images. Still, it holds up fine and doesn't feel sluggish unless you start playing games. The Moto G4 tends to get bogged down easily if you run a heavy 3D game—the Adreno 405 GPU just isn't hearty enough for that.

These phones both have a 3,000mAh battery, which by the way is 400mAh larger than the Moto Z. Battery life is a very personal thing. My usage patterns may be vastly different than yours, so consider that before you take any of this as gospel. With that out of the way, my experience with battery life on the Moto G4 has been fantastic.

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Like many of you, I've been out playing Pokémon GO on and off for the last couple weeks. That's just about the worst thing you can do for your phone's battery—brightness maxed by the sun, constant GPS usage, and game rendering. Still, the Moto G4 has done quite well considering the circumstances. Over the course of almost two days of usage without a recharge (battery saver disabled), I had almost four hours of screen time, a bit over an hour of which was Pokémon GO (performance can be a little slow on the Moto G4, but it is on a lot of devices regardless of power). I also did general smartphone things. With heavier usage, screen time in a single day is probably over the five-hour mark. Both phones support fast charging, but only the Plus comes with a turbo charger in the box.

Software

I suppose we can cross one post-Lenovo worry off our lists; Motorola's version of Android is still very close to stock. If you've seen Android 6.0.1 on a Nexus device, you'll know what it looks like here. The clean software is probably one of the reasons the Moto G4 keeps chugging along with its modest SoC, so good on Moto for keeping that up.

This build of Android comes with the customary Motorola tweaks consisting of Moto Display and Moto Actions. The voice customization features are only available on the Moto Z and older Moto X phones. As I mentioned above, I really love the camera twist gesture in Moto Actions, but I also use the flashlight chop twice gesture a lot. You can also flip the phone over to turn on do not disturb, which I also think is quite handy. Lifting the phone can also silence your ringer when a call comes in. I could take or leave this one.

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Moto Display is still a great feature that I use extensively on the Moto G4. You are probably somewhat familiar with it even if you don't own a Motorola phone—it's been on Moto devices since the 2013 Moto X. When you get a notification, the screen wakes up with an icon you can press to see the notification text. This screen mode also comes on when you pick up the phone, making it very quick to unlock without pressing the power button. The new version of Moto Display has the icons lower on the screen, which is more comfortable on a larger phone. The swipe gestures for Moto Display are slightly different this year. Dragging an icon up unlocks and opens, and anything else dismisses.

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Moto Display does have one notable weakness here due to the hardware. There are no motion sensors on the front of the phone, so you can't wake up the display simply by waving at it like you can on the Moto X and Moto Z. So, moving the phone is the only trigger, but the Moto G4 is very reliable about waking up when you pick up the phone or even just tilt it without picking it up.

If Motorola's software does have a failing, it's that there isn't much innovation. There's nothing truly new here, and there hasn't been for a couple years. In fact, some features have gone away as stock Android began offering better versions of them. The mid-range offering isn't usually where you see new software features, so this is more a complaint about Motorola's flagship software efforts. Still, some of that filters down to budget phones. It's hard to get too bent out of shape, though. It's still good software.

Conclusion

The Moto G4 continues to offer an excellent value at $200. The specs have gotten a nice bump this year with the Snapdragon 617 (up from a 410) and 2GB of RAM in the base model (1GB last year). It's not the fastest phone, and the camera isn't the greatest, but it's far better on both counts than I would expect from a $200 device.

One of the coolest things about the Moto G4 is that it's unlocked with support for all major carriers. Yes, even CDMA carriers like Verizon. Whatever SIM you drop in, it just works. It's so refreshing to see this in a budget unlocked phone, which usually only support GSM networks. There's also support for band 12 LTE and VoLTE on T-Mobile, another omission from last year's G.

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The only real knock against this phone is that it's not water-resistant like last year's Moto G. Annoying, but probably not a deal breaker for many. The increased size might also bug some people. The other complaints are par for a budget phone—gaming performance is lacking with the mid-range SoC, it still uses microUSB, and the camera is just okay.

The $200 Moto G4 with 16GB of storage is the sweet spot, in my opinion

The Plus upgrade is a nice option for people who want a fingerprint sensor or a better camera. Although, I'd argue that if you want a good camera, a budget phone isn't going to cut it. The $200 Moto G4 with 16GB of storage is the sweet spot, in my opinion. The performance is roughly the same and the software is identical. There's only 16GB of storage, but you have a microSD card slot and the Moto G4 supports adoptable storage. You can get very spacious microSD cards for dirt cheap now.

If you do want the Plus, get the $250 version. $300 is too much to pay for a Snapdragon 617, even if there's 4GB of RAM. I'd also suggest buying direct from Motorola as you can customize the phone with Moto Maker.